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The Fishermen review at Assembly George Square, Edinburgh – ‘a supreme piece of theatre’

Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga in The Fishermen. Photo: Robert Day
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Gbolahan Obisesan’s adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s novel makes for a supreme piece of theatre. It’s pared to essentials – two actors and a simple, skeletal set by Amelia Jane Hankin – but made to feel incredibly full by intense, playful performances from Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga, and a twisting script from Obisesan.

One brother reunites with another by the river where they used to fish, and they recall the traumatic events that split them up. In recreating these memories, the brothers become all the characters that populated their lives: they disagree about the way their mother moved, or who said what and when.

Upright metal poles arranged in an s-shape act as a barrier, which becomes porous as they reconnect. The poles look like the skeleton of a fish with all the meat picked clean.

Under director Jack McNamara, there are startling, smart flashes of inventiveness. When the boys are being lashed by their father they lie on the floor, legs clamped together, and flounder like fish on dry land. The poles are plucked from the floor and used as fishing rods.

There’s not a single slack moment in the performances. They jump into their array of characters so quickly, improvising easily with plenty of laughter to give a sense of love and history between them.

But what comes across most powerfully – in the acting, the script and the direction – is the bleed between imagination and memory, as re-enactment can turn into trauma, and play can stop being play.

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Superb adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s novel set in a small Nigerian town